U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says there has been no decision on whether President Donald Trump will have formal talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at an Asian economic summit this week.
Tillerson's remarks came after a senior aide to Putin said earlier on November 9 that Trump and Putin were likely to meet on November 10.
"There’s never been an agreement, certainly not to a full bilat," Tillerson said, referring to a formal bilateral meeting.
“The question is whether we’ve got sufficient substance, and we’re working with the Russians, as you know, on a number of difficult areas," said Tillerson, who is accompanying Trump on a five-nation Asia tour.
Tillerson said it would not be unusual for the two presidents to have an informal "pull-aside meeting" if they bumped into each other.
"We’re in contact with them and the view’s that the two leaders are going to meet if there’s something sufficiently substantive to talk about that would warrant a formal meeting,” he added.
Yury Ushakov, Putin's senior foreign policy aide, said earlier in the day that a meeting on the sidelines of a November 10-11 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam "is being agreed at this moment."
"It will most likely take place on November 10," Ushakov said.
The Kremlin later seemed less certain.
Asked about Tillerson's comments, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that a possible meeting was still being discussed. He predicted that Trump and Putin would cross paths "one way or another."
U.S.-Russian relations are badly strained over issues including Moscow's aggression in Ukraine and its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The only face-to-face meetings between the two presidents since Trump 's inauguration in January took place during a G20 summit in Germany in July.
At those talks in Hamburg, Trump and Putin discussed accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election but indicated that they agreed to focus on moving forward rather than arguing about past actions.
Relations have been further strained since then, however, amid multiple U.S. investigations into the alleged meddling and whether associates of Trump colluded with Moscow. Putin denies that Russia interfered, and Trump says there was no collusion.
Under pressure from Congress, Trump signed a bill strengthening sanctions against Russia in early August. Moscow ordered the United States to make major cuts in its embassy and consular staff in Russia, and Washington took retaliatory steps.
Meanwhile, tensions over Russia's seizure of Crimea and support for separatists fighting Kyiv's forces in eastern Ukraine -- as well as Russia's role in the devastating war in Syria -- persist.
Trump said on November 5 that he expected to meet with Putin during his current Asia trip, and Peskov said on November 8 that there was a "high probability" they would meet.